A Short History of Bernards Heath

The Aftermath of Brickmaking

A side effect of the brickmaking was a number of large pits, which were often filled with water. These were both dangerous and unpleasant. In 1871 Henry Spriggs, a bricklayer’s labourer suggested to a friend that they had a bathe. To save money Henry proposed that they went swimming in a pond on the Heath adjoining Arnold’s brickworks. Unfortunately Henry got out of his depth and drowned. At the inquest it emerged that at the time of a previous drowning the water had been shown to be 18 feet deep and it was suggested that as boys often bathed there the dangerous parts should be fenced.

In August 1889 a ten year old boy called W. Dumbleton went to bathe with some friends in the flooded pit behind the cricket pavilion when the bank gave way. He was lucky to be saved by Mr. J. Rogers, assistant master at Christchurch School. Five year old Leonard Margrave was less lucky and in 1890 was drowned in one of Mr Dickson’s claypits. In June 1893 two boys were rescued from drowning in a 20 foot deep pit between Culver Road and St John’s Road (later renamed Heath Road) while in August 1905 2½ year old Sydney Page fell in a pit near Heath Farm and drowned.

… "The winds blow strong on Bernard’s Heath" — very strong. Day by day the refuse of the city of some 18,000 inhabitants is carted up to the Heath to the detriment of our Garden City; and what is naturally the finest and healthiest part of the city is made a frowsey, vile-smelling, dusty, microbe-laden vermin-haunted district. Monday by Monday the refuse is collected from the back premises of the Heath houses and deposited just over the road, immediately opposite the County Council School. This accumulation of many years is a standing menace to the health and well-being of the district. His Majesty’s liege subjects, passing to and fro along the King’s highway upon their lawful occasions, have frequently to encounter a considerable belt of sound, solid STINK – I write the plain English word in capital letters without a blush. Often we, who dwell here, wake at night and find our bedrooms filled with the reek from this St Albans Gehenna.

From letter by H. R. Wilton Hall. Herts Advertiser, 23rd Sept, 1905.

The hazards were removed by infilling the pits with the town rubbish in the early 20th century, the stench adding to the rancid smell of the rotting bones at Lewis & Wiles' factory which had been built on G. F. Arnold's brickworks.

Next: Jacob Reynolds of Heath Farm

See also: The Death of Leonard Margrave on Bernards Heath in 1890

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